Very unlike every other capital in the Southeast Asian region, Vientiane is a city of quiet beauty and old-world allure, pervaded by a laid-back atmosphere reminiscent of smaller towns. It never fails to captivate those who go to white on Laos tours, with its beautiful temple complexes, sleepy roads and beautiful views over the Mekong. Those who take a while to explore it’s charms will be happy they did.
Vientiane was once a vital, thriving city in the old Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. It became the capital in the 16th century, when it’s status as a political and spiritual centre spread far and wide and it’s temples were famous for their beauty and Buddhist scholarship. Sadly, small was left following the city was sacked in 1828 throughout conflict with the Thais. It became the capital again under the French, and retained this status after the country became independent in 1953. Although of it’s most dramatic changes possess taken location in the last few centuries, the city’s background spans a much higher length of time. Where for all those on Laos tours to obtain a great overview is the Lao National Museum, which tells the story of the country — and its capital — from prehistory to present.
Of the temples that graced Vientiane prior to it was ransacked, just Wat Sisaket remains. Built in 1818, it’s house to a collection of beautiful murals illustrating the jataka tales (stories from the Buddha’s past lives) and hundreds of Buddha images in stone, wood, bronze and silver. It’s certainly worthy of the put on itineraries for Laos excursions, as are a lot of the newer temples. Whilst no longer the functioning temple, Wat Pha Kaew is notable as a renovation of the former royal temple, originally built to house the Emerald Buddha that now resides in Bangkok. Wat Pha Kaew is now the museum of Buddhist art along with especially good examples of traditional wood-carving. A number of other temples possess their own unique attractions — look out for Wat Si Muang, house to the city pillar, and Wat Onteu with it’s carved wooden doors.
Vientiane is one of those rare cities that seem to encourage the visitor to take it slow — also it benefits those who do. After viewing the sights, looking into the temples, and hunting for mementos in the Morning Market, make sure to set apart a few of time in your Laos tours for a leisurely walk across the Mekong. Have a sundowner on the riverbank and a great meal in one of the superb French or Laotian restaurants; or simply soak up the atmosphere and watch the world go by.